Breast Ironing is a topic which many know very little about, and those that do shy away from discussing it.
Many do so because of its sensitivity, others due to fear of repercussions, and victims because having to disclose that something so cruel, painful and devastating has been done to them by people meant to love, care for and protect them is a very hard thing to do and admit.
Most of us will have heard of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is the total or partial removal of the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. However how much do you know about breast ironing? An act of abuse which entails hot objects being pounded on the chests of pre-pubescent girls. They are both identified as hidden forms of abuse tied up within familial loyalty and often very hard to detect as they are not spoken about within families and communities.
Understanding the law, indicators, countries were they are practiced and the reasons why it happens will allow you to have open and honest dialogues with all young people, their families and carers, as education and knowledge is the key to making these practices, not just illegal worldwide, but also for them to be seen by those practising these acts as an unnecessary and damaging form of abuse.
Mothers, grandmothers, aunts and females within communities and cultures where Breast Ironing takes place, carry out this act of violence not for self-gratification or to willfully cause harm – it is done for protection, honour and acceptance of that female child and the family’s standing within the community; factors deemed as deeply important and necessary.
The fact that Breast Ironing takes place for these reasons doesn’t make it right or acceptable. It is a form of abuse, however, it isn’t illegal in the UK or in the countries where it is practiced.
It is estimated that 3.8 million girls worldwide have been subjected to Breast Ironing worldwide.
Breast Ironing is primarily carried out in Cameroon. However, cases have also been reported in Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Guinea, Ivory Coast and South Africa, with the practice now also featuring in the UK and parts of mainland Europe.
Girls’ as young as 10 yrs old have their chests pounded with hot objects, such as stones, spatulas and pestles to disguise the onset of puberty. It is done to deter unwanted male attention, pregnancy and rape by delaying the growth of the breasts in order to minimise the signs that a girl is becoming a woman.
On International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2017, MP Jake Berry gave a speech in the House of Commons, whereby he stated that thousands of girls within West African communities in cities such as Birmingham and London are being subjected to breast ironing.
He was so appalled to know that this was being carried out in the UK he felt that it was necessary to raise this abuse with every local authority and police force in the country. However due to lack of awareness of this crime, 72% of the police forces who responded either failed to answer what they were doing about it or admitted that they’d never hear about it. It is a crime that is barely recognised or understood.
The implications of Breast Ironing are devastating causing life-long physical and emotional scars, effects and injuries; some of which are irreversible.
Identifying that a girl is at risk of, or experienced Breast Ironing can be difficult, however, some key factors are;
- Unusual behaviour after an absence from school and may appear depressed, anxious or withdrawn
- Reluctance to undergo normal medical examinations
- Fear of changing for physical activities due to scars showing or bandages being visible
- Some girls may ask for help, perhaps worried about their chest area, but may not be explicit about the problem due to embarrassment or fear.
Being vigilant to these signs and indicators may allow for the correct support and intervention to be provided for the child.
About our Community Expert
As an experienced practitioner Child Protection, Safeguarding and Behaviour are key areas for much of Karen’s expertise and experience. She has been working with children, young people and adults for over 15 years in a multitude of settings which include dance and performing arts companies, local authorities, youth clubs, education and the welfare to work sector.
Karen’s main expertise is in safeguarding and behaviour management and modification strategies, with her most recent role being a national Safeguarding Lead. Karen has also been a school governor for nine years, two of which have been as Vice-Chair.
Karen has also run a behaviour unit (inclusive PRU) within an Academy and worked with the most disaffected students whose behaviour was disruptive who weren’t accessing the curriculum within the mainstream setting. She has and also worked with disaffected young people within a youth club, most of whom were at risk of permanent exclusion and carried out safeguarding audits whilst working for a multi-academy trust.